Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004, French)

Henri Cartier Bresson with Cat, cats in black and white

Henri Cartier Bresson with Cat

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) was a French photographer known as a master of the candid shot, and who made famous the term “the decisive moment” which he used as a title for his first book published in 1952. Henri Cartier-Bresson was born into a wealthy family and was the oldest of five children. Because of his financial freedom, he was able to freely pursue his love of photography. Cartier-Bresson also studied art and learned composition and form and became interested in Surrrealism. From 1928-29, he studied at the University of Cambridge where he learned English and later went to Africa where he said that hunting had influenced his photography. In 1935, he traveled to the US where he exhibited his work at the Julien Levy Gallery.  In 1936, he became involved in film making and even acted in Partie de Compagne. Cartier-Bresson’s first photojournalist photos were of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth published in 1937. With the imminent beginning of WWII, Cartier-Bresson enlisted in the French army’s Film and Photo unit. He was captured by the Germans in 1940 and spent over 2 years in a prison-of-war camp from which he managed to escape on his third try. After returning to France, he joined the underground and documented the occupation and then liberation of France.

In 1947, Cartier-Bresson and several other well-known photographers founded Magnum Photos. The group shared photo assignments that took them all over the world.

He married Magnum photographer Martine Franck who was thirty years younger in 1970 and had a daughter, Mélanie, in May 1972.

Our Cat Ulysses and wife Martine's Shadow, 1988, cats in art

Our Cat Ulysses and wife Martine’s Shadow, 1988


Melanie Cartier-Bresson with cat

Melanie Cartier-Bresson with cat


Soon after his marriage, Cartier-Bresson retired from photography, and by 1975 no longer took pictures other than an occasional private portrait. Instead, he turned to painting and drawing. 

Cartier-Bresson nearly always used a Leica 35 mm rangefinder camera fitted with a normal 50mm lens, or occasionally a wide-angle lens for landscapes and he never used a flash.  Most of his photos are in black and white, as he saw color as technically inferior and aesthetically limited.

He told the Washington Post in 1957, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Quite a few of his photographs include cats whom he respected for their independent nature. He is quoted as saying, “I’m an anarchist, yes. Because I’m alive. Life is a provocation…. I’m against people in power and what that imposes upon them. Anglo-Saxons have to learn what anarchism is. For them, it’s violence. A cat knows what anarchy is. Ask a cat. A cat understands. They’re against discipline and authority. A dog is trained to obey. Cats can’t be. Cats bring on chaos.”

Cartier-Bresson died in Provence, France on August 3, 2004, aged 95. He was buried in the local cemetery and was survived by his wife, Martine Franck and daughter, Mélanie.

cartier_bresson_new york 1947 with cat

New York


Henri Cartier-Bresson 1951, cats in a window

Cats in a Window


Cat in Paris 1952 Cartier-Bresson



Cat in a cafe Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1953

Cat in a Cafe


Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1953 An Attentive Cat

An Attentive Cat


Cartier-Bresson Cat on a Window Ledge 1955

Cat on a Window Ledge


Henri Cartier-Bresson Rome 1959



Henri Cartier-Bresson Cats Eating 1961

Cats Eating


Cat on a Table 1964 Cartier-Bresson

Black Cat on a Table


HCB The Cat without a mother,

The Cat without a Mother


Katze zwischen Mieder, Lille, 1968 Henri Cartier-Bresson

Cat in the Window
Lille, 1968


Cartier-Bresson, cats in photos


Cat 1973 Basilicata. Brienza, Italy, Henri Carter-Bresson

Basilicata. Brienza,

Cat Thessalia, Greece 1961, Henri Carter-Bresson

Thessalia, Greece


Madame Melie with Cat 1944, Henri Carter-Bresson

Madame Melie with Cat


Henri Carter-Bresson, Cat, Paris 1953



Many of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs were of famous artists, writers and musicians with their cats.


Igor Stravinsky and his Cat California, 1947, Cartier-Bresson

Igor Stravinsky and his Cat
California, 1947


Cartier-Bresson Igor Stravinsky and his Cat California, 1947

Igor Stravinsky and Cat


Boris Karloff and cat Henri Cartier-Bresson

Boris Karloff


Henri Matisse in bed with his black cat 1950, H. Cartier-Bresson

Henri Matisse in bed with his black cat


French Writer, Roger Nimier and Cat 1950, Bresson

French Writer, Roger Nimier and Cat


William Eugene Smith and his Cat 1960, Cartier-Bresson

William Eugene Smith and his Cat


Saul Steinberg and Cat, Cartier Bresson

Saul Steinberg


Want to know more about the cat in art, history and literature? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you.  Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 



Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats



Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Laura Vocelle


  1. I love your website and the phenomenal pictures!

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